Pic of people from high above looking like ants
99

Discover the Patience of an Ant

A head-and-shoulders picture of Andrew Chirch with water in the background

I’m Andrew Chirch, an Interfaith advisor and coach. 99 is a special weekly podcast series where we meet for 9 minutes to regroup, re-center ourselves, and prepare for the work ahead.

Subscribe here to listen on your favorite podcast app, or you can use the player at the top of this post. A transcript is below.

Are you always setting goals? Always striving for something? Are you certain that you’re ALMOST THERE, and when you finally get that one thing or do that one thing, THEN you will have arrived??

No?

Good. Because that makes one of us who knows the secret here. Being an interfaith student and soon-to-be minister, I’ve come across more traditions than I can count who all say something about today’s topic – to endure.

Part patience, part equanimity, part acceptance, where we’re going today is well – nowhere.

Because *always going somewhere*  is exactly the point. I don’t know about you , but from as early as I can remember, I’ve been taught that I should have goals—that I should strive to be better. I’ve got to out-hustle the next guy, work harder, earn more, grow, grow, grow.

There is a chance that growing and striving isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s a series of questions:

What about appreciating what’s already there – and will be gone in the blink of an eye?

What if part of what it means to be human is to complain? About how I threw a party for fifty people and only ten showed up? About how it’s too cold or too hot, or the world is too hateful, or I don’t make enough money for how hard I work?

Yes, there are trials and bad things happen. All the time. And… in the midst of bad things happening, good and beautiful things are happening as well.

The patience we’re talking about today is wise and ageless patience. It doesn’t deny your suffering. Your suffering is real. The thing is, though, suffering is part of this existence. When we do everything in our power to minimize it or avoid suffering, aren’t we kind of just fooling ourselves?

Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

There’s something to consider. What are we busy about?

It’s funny that this quote found me as I was writing this, because I was just thinking about ants. I think about a lot, actually. Where I live, in the summer, ants are everywhere… mostly on the sidewalks. As I walk around, I come across them every few feet. Whole colonies of them, just furiously doing whatever ants do.

They seem so….. busy… I try not to step on them. (I’m that person who’s dodging and weaving around at random beside the street. If you wonder what that’s about, I’m trying not to step on the ants).

So what ARE they doing? Is this deeply satisfying work they’re doing? Do you think they come home at the end of a shift and rub their sore antennae and gripe about the young ants just don’t work as hard? Are there little ant spiritual retreats where they go and study the ways of the ant-cestors (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Seriously though… Some of the religions I study are centered around a God or Divine consciousness that might observe us like we observe ants. What must that be like?

Is God trying hard not to step on us? Does she wonder what all the fuss is about? Why we scurry and strive and make ourselves sick trying to build something that can’t be seen?

I imagine that if God notices us at all, they might lovingly see our suffering and wish we could take comfort in this eternal patience. Knowledge that we are born, we live our lives, and we die, all in predictable, repeating patterns.

If God could speak, God might remind us that we already have what we need on the day we are born. They might remind us that if there is any scurrying and striving to do, we might consider striving to know ourselves. To meet ourselves for the first time, and to spend a lifetime learning to appreciate things just as they are – rather than how they could be.

None of this is to say we ought just spend our lives on the proverbial couch.

Rather,

What if you got to the end of this podcast and turned off your headphones and just looked around you – IRL – at what’s there? I don’t know about you, but I do this thing where I strive for the future and long for the past. Rarely, though, do I appreciate the present.

When I had a big house and a fancy job and car and was unbelievably busy, I remember wondering what the heck had happened. Thinking back to when life was so simple – when I had a tiny apartment with hardly any furniture and a junky car. Some of my best memories came from that time when life WAS simple. And beautiful.

It’s those things right now too. You are amazing. Whether you change or not. Whether you strive or not. Whatever you do.

I bid you patience, my friend.

Timeless, loving, humble patience. Not only will you get where you’re going – you’ve already arrived.

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